Although the legality of Arizona’s SB1070 has yet to be decided in court, that hasn’t stopped lawmakers from attempting to pass what backers describe as closing holes in existing laws but what critics call an even more sweeping immigration measure.
By a vote of 7-6, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved on Tuesday a bill whose ultimate aim is to make it more difficult for undocumented aliens to access public benefits.
The overriding goal, not just of this legislation but others before it, is to make Arizona as “unfriendly” as a place can be for undocumented aliens, backers said.
Senate President Russell Pearce, the bill’s author, said the legislation is another attempt to abolish “inducements” to illegal immigration, to uphold the voters’ will to deny public benefits to illegal aliens, and to save taxpayers money.
“You can’t reward those who break our laws,” Pearce said in the discussion at the hearing.
In explaining his “yes” vote, Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa City, tied the state’s budget woes to illegal immigration.
“This problem is a main root problem of why we are so in debt,” he said.
The bill, SB1611, would deny illegal immigrants access to public benefits, from operating or titling vehicles to enrolling in community colleges to receiving medical aid.
During the hearing, critics sought to find holes in the legislation that backers insist would close loopholes in existing immigration statutes.
The critics raised concerns about potentially turning away from shelters some victims of domestic violence, about the lack of remedy for people whose cars might have been stolen and used by illegal immigrants and would, under the bill, be forfeited, and about pre-empting federal law, which would be illegal.
The better part of the hearing showcased a duel of views between Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, who opposes the bill, and Pearce, its author.
When Pearce said several times that lawbreakers shouldn’t be rewarded, Sinema said many college-age students entered the country as juveniles, and they therefore really didn’t have a say in their parents’ decision to cross the border illegally.
Earlier in the day, critics said far from the mere “cleanup” Pearce labeled it, SB1611 is a giant piece of legislation that is light years worse than SB1070 and will put Arizona right back in court, once again defending a measure that, among other alleged flaws, contravenes federal law.
Some also said the bill represents big government run amuck by attempting to check every aspect of people’s lives, from applying for a car title to running a business.
Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, called it the most “alarming” proposal to come out of the Legislature in the last decade.
“We’re now going after the kids,” Gallardo said in a press briefing hours before the measure, SB1611, was heard in the Appropriations Committee. “How low can we stoop now? Arizona is much better than this, folks. We are much better than this.”
Rep. Albert Hale, D-Window Rock, said a society is judged by how well it treats its most vulnerable citizens.
“The bill that you see here does not do that. So we, as leaders, are failing our responsibility,” Hale said.
Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the bill is problematic in at least two areas: One is the provision that creates a crime of “driving while undocumented.” She said that invites racial profiling, not to mention that it violates federal law by setting up Arizona’s own “immigration enforcement scheme.”
Soler Meetze said the portion of the bill that limits documents that can be used for enrolling a child in a K-12 school violates the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Plyler v. Doe, which says states may not deny free public education to school-age children. The bill doesn’t say a child who cannot show proof of legal presence is denied enrollment.
“The goal is to intimidate people and to prevent them from registering their children in school,” she said. “(But) even if one person, even if one parent is discouraged from enrolling their child in school because of this law, that violates Plyler.”
Currently, the law says that those who are enrolling children must show a birth certificate or “other reliable proof” of identity and age, which may include a baptismal certificate.
Pearce, author of 2010’s landmark immigration law known as SB1070, introduced SB1611 on Feb. 21, an “omnibus” immigration bill whose aim, he said, is “making sure that our laws that are on the books are enforced.”
Meanwhile, state laws already require a list of documents to prove lawful status in order to access public benefits — but only to “extent permitted by federal law.” SB1611 would delete this limiting clause, a move critics have said would leave an Arizona list far more restrictive than the federal list.
Under the bill, a public employee’s failure to report violations of federal immigration laws would be a Class 1 misdemeanor. The existing law makes such a failure a Class 2 misdemeanor.
Also under the legislation, a person convicted of aggravated taking of someone else’s identity in order to obtain employment faces 180 days in jail.
In addition, the bill would make it unlawful for illegal immigrants to drive in the state. If caught and convicted, the undocumented resident faces at least a month in jail and the forfeiture of the vehicle.
Another hot-button issue is the bill’s provision to deny admission to students in community colleges, unless they can show proof of legal presence here.